After I saw actor Ben Platt perform on the Tony Awards, I couldn't buy my ticket to Dear Evan Hansen fast enough. (I should preface all this by saying that I worked in the theater as an actor and playwright for more than a decade, so my awe was informed by knowing how almost impossible some of what he did was.) What I saw in Platt was a combination of musical genius, vocal and acting depth, technique—equal parts spontaneity and control—that delivered a once-in-a-lifetime performance that might end up on my list of spiritual high points in the theater—which has only one other member, Peter Brook's 1970 Broadway production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
"I want to be guaranteed to see Ben Platt," I told the box office clerk.
"His contract runs out in November," he answered.
"Okay, what's the first ticket where you can guarantee he's in the show?"
Three hundred dollars later, I walked home stunned. But it was once in a lifetime.
JUMP CUT to yesterday. A little sign at the theater entrance and a little piece of paper in the program announced that in this performance the understudy would do Ben Platt's role. To say I was fuming is an understatement. I have no wish to hurt the actor who played the role of Evan Hansen, so suffice it to say he was not Ben Platt, did not have the vocal qualities, etc. that had made me lay out hundreds of dollars, and did not make the choices that sent vibrations through my soul. Nevertheless, before the first scene, I managed to suspend my resentment and committed to remaining open to being amazed.
And I was. Not by a brilliant actor, but by the complexity of the lie: the show is a lie. A big horrible lie about telling horrible lies.
A lonely boy inadvertently tells lies, gets embroiled in a masquerade about being the best friend to a boy who has killed himself, sings his fantasies of friendship, is taken into the dead boy's family, and, through brilliantly seductive music and orchestrations, we are told that this is a show about being a loner, yearning for connection, and that if you fall somebody will always pick you up and you can come out into the sunshine. And at the end of the first act, when Evan sings this fantasy, duping a whole assembly of his schoolmates, the audience, identifying with his longing, cheered!
Not me. At this point a sickened feeling took over my solar plexus. And it stayed throughout the second act, somewhat mitigated when Evan finally tells the truth and people get angry with him.
According to the interviews with the cast, the message—and the reason everybody but me and maybe a few others sob—is that everybody feels like an outsider and so they connect to Evan's pain.
But what about the message that brings this identification and eventual magical relief? That it's okay to lie, pretend, dupe, and after a boy's suicide—never examined, by the way— when you fall, somebody will pick you up and then, poof, with no real consequences, you will learn from your mistake and be okay in the sun just being who you really are?
Please! We are a country roiling in lies these days—well-orchestrated and, for many, seductive. Are they really proving that all anxiety will drop away if we just pretend that somebody will take care of us?
As a friend who reacted similarly to me (and even started an "I Didn't Love Evan Hansen" support group—I'm the third member) said, "Is there something wrong with ME or the entire rest of the people that have seen it? Neither answer is comforting."